What do you think it will be like?
My grandmother was sitting in her chair next to the window at the kitchen table. I was in the chair facing the window that overlooked the side yard of our house, out past the driveway and down the road where my family had lived since my grandparents bought the 1864 farm house in 1945.
I was humbled and moved by her question. We had sat at this table, just like this, whenever I came home from my Navy active duty station in Maryland, about four hours away. Since her diagnosis with cancer. Since she learned it was finally untreatable. We had talked about a lot at that table. This was the weightiest conversation we ever had.
When I was twelve, I begged my family to let me stop going to Sunday school because the teachers weren’t answering my questions. I didn’t want to color pictures and make crafts, I wanted to know more about this God being, how It worked, who Jesus really was. They agreed, and my spiritual quest took me to some incredible places. Over the years, I shared everything I learned with Grandma.
Now we were facing the ultimate question.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “But I can tell you what I’ve heard.”
As the months progressed and my grandmother inched closer to discovering it for herself, I started “knowing” certain things. I knew she would die on the Friday a week after Thanksgiving. I knew it would be in the morning. I was home for Thanksgiving. I knew I was saying my final goodbye.
That week, when Grandma lapsed into a coma and the hospice nurses were telling my mother the signs to look for that indicated Grandma’s death was imminent, I also knew I was supposed to stay in Maryland. None of us had any idea why. My mother was somehow not surprisingly fine with it: “Well, if it feels that definite, I’m sure we’ll learn the reason.” We had all been talking about the fact that if my grandmother, my mother’s mother, was going to “show” any of us anything, it would be me, because of the conversations we’d been having.
Friday morning, December 5, 1986, just before seven in the morning, we all found out.
My emergency leave was scheduled. My best friend, Steve, had come up from Virginia to go with me to New Jersey when the time came. Thursday night, he asked for the last time if I was sure I didn’t want to be there for “the moment.”
“I can’t,” I told him. “For some reason I know I have to be here.”
As I had done almost every night the week of Grandma’s coma, I called my mother to have her hold the phone up to my grandmother’s ear. “We love you,” I told her. “We will be OK, and we just want you to not be afraid, because this is going to be awesome for you.”
Steve and I went to bed.
Moments before 7 a.m., I bolted upright in bed and looked at the clock. An inner voice that I knew wasn’t mine said, It’s happening. Lay back down now.
The moment my head met the pillow, I was no longer in my little condo in Silver Spring. I was in a room facing my grandmother, who was lying asleep in a hospital bed. She was wearing her favorite blue nightgown, her head turned to the left. Shapes filled the room, like people, but made of mist. There was a large window next to a door on my right. There was nothing but gray on the other side of the window.
Suddenly an older man I recognized but couldn’t place appeared in front of me. He held a handful of pills. “Look at this,” he said. “These don’t work anymore.” He threw the pills on the floor.
As I approached my grandmother’s side, the misty shapes in the room began solidifying, becoming people I recognized as friends and family members who had died years before.
At her bedside, I reached out to touch my grandmother’s hand. The moment I did, Grandma’s eyes flew open and she turned her head toward me. “I’m not afraid anymore!” she excitedly exclaimed. “In fact, this is wonderful! I feel wonderful!”
The color was returning to her face. The people in the room moved toward her, smiling, all the while, my grandmother proclaiming again and again how amazing she felt. The bed disappeared. Grandma was standing up, lifting her nightgown slightly to look at her feet on the floor, then at the people in the room, then at me: “Tell your mother! Oh, my God, tell your mother! This is wonderful! I feel wonderful! Please tell your mother!”
Grandma’s friends and family then began slowing moving my grandmother to the door, which opened to reveal blinding white light behind her as she approached the threshold. She never stopped exclaiming.
She reached the threshold and stopped.
“Tell your mother,” she said. “I’m not afraid anymore. This is wonderful.”
As she stepped over the threshold, the ringing of the phone brought me back into my room in Silver Spring. The call was from my mother.
“She’s gone,” mom said.
“I know,” I responded. “I was there. Now I know why I needed to stay in Maryland.”
She was wearing her blue nightgown: confirmed. Her head facing left; yes.
The odd thing was, I told mom, in this experience, Grandma was in a hospital bed.
“Oh, didn’t we tell you? We got the hospital bed on Wednesday.”
No, no one had told me.
It was immensely comforting to my mother that I could share her mother’s last words, and that they were so reassuring. The presiding minister at the service said he wasn’t surprised at all; he heard stories like that all the time.
More “odd” occurrences preceded and followed my grandmother’s death, of course. On the same day a few weeks or so before, my mother, sister, and I all called each other to share that we heard a song, “Somewhere Out There” by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, that made us think of Grandma. Needless to say, we’d hear it whenever, I guess, she wanted us to know she was around.
When I had a little invisible “sit-down” with her once when I seemed to be hearing it only when “bad” things happened and asked her to please stop sending the song, I started seeing the street number of our house instead. Very funny, Grandma.
This is the first time I’m sharing this story publicly. For whatever reason, I never got very far in the few times I’ve tried. However, a friend has just experienced a tremendous loss, so I’m sharing it for her.
So here it is, friend. If it in any way eases your pain or brings you some small comfort, I’m grateful and blessed. I know Grandma would be glad to know her story might mean something to you, too.